Birth of Jesus fulfills salvation promise

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 25, 2014

I really like the numerous social and cultural traditions that have become part of our preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas lights glisten in store windows, streets, city park and private homes.

I like the Christmas tree on Main Street. Christmas trees in stores and in family homes set the Christmas mood. Christmas carols and music draw us into the Christmas spirit. Giving and receiving beautifully wrapped gifts is also part of the pre-Christmas excitement, as are Christmas parties at places of work and in private homes.

In my church, Roman Catholic, the weeks leading up to Christmas, known as Advent, emphasize liturgically that we Christian people are in a “waiting and preparing mood.” Our practice of developing the manger in stages and of lighting Advent wreath candles highlights our moving closer to the great feast, the anniversary of the first coming of Jesus among mankind as a fellow-human. The scripture readings in our worship (Masses) take us back to the original promise of a savior in Genesis, and then the messages of patriarchs, prophets, godly rulers, and finally John the Baptist prepared the people for the eventual coming of the world’s savior. His coming at Bethlehem as an infant fulfilled the hopes of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham — the Jewish people, and opened the way for the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike.

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I write my reflections with the hope that as you prepare/wait for Christmas dinner you will remind yourself of the significance of Jesus’ birth. It was the fulfillment of the promise of salvation given many thousands of years earlier. The promise remained in the collective memory of the people and sustained them in times of turmoil and doubt. I present here some of the historical events and experiences that culminated in the birth of Jesus.

God created a beautiful world to share his glory. He placed man and woman in a happy environment to enjoy the wonders of this created world and the life he had given them. In their selfishness and limited perspectives, they fell from grace and lost God’s friendship. But God did not abandon them. Instead, he promised to send a savior (Gen. 3:15) so that they, at some future time, could again enjoy life with him.

Because humankind had lost its original innocence God’s ongoing grace was needed through the centuries. Selfishness, pride, greed and sin became part of man’s experience. To protect humankind from destroying itself, God intervened through judgment on the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Gen. 4:10-16), sending the great flood (Gen 7:6-23) and stopping construction of the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9).

About 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus, God called Abram (Gen. 12:1-7) to be the leader of a people whom God would call his own people. The call involved leaving his home in Ur of Chaldea and taking with him his family to a land God would show him. God promised to be with him and to make his descendants into a great nation, later to be known as the Jewish people. We consider Abram (renamed by God as Abraham) a man of faith.

After Abraham, God raised up outstanding leaders among his people — Isaac (Gen. 26:25), Jacob (Gen. 47:9) and Moses (Ex. 7:7), and later kings Saul (1100 B.C.), David (1060 B.C.) and Solomon (1020 B.C). Although God’s people were blessed with outstanding leaders, and always believed that God would send a savior, they often lost their way and failed to live up to the covenants God had given them. This resulted in God’s chastisement of them and their eventual return to observing his laws and precepts . God liberated them from the slavery of Egypt (1250-1200 BCE) and through their leader, Moses, gave them the commandments on Mount Sinai (Ex. 25:16, 40-20).

Beginning in the eleventh century B.C., and continuing until the Fifth Century, God continued the preparation for his people for the coming of a savior through the work of the prophets. Their mission was to be spokespersons for God to his people, to challenge them when they forgot God and his laws, to call them back to him from their sinful ways, and to remind them of his promise to send a savior. It was during the latter part of this period that “God’s people” were deported to Babylon and later restored to their homeland by the hand of their God.

Some prophets served over long periods of time, while others had a specific role and for a limited amount of time . We are more familiar with some than others, for example Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah. Every prophet had a message that had an obvious application in their own time, and only later was the deeper spiritual meaning seen. We frequently look to Isaiah for messages that apply to the long-awaited savior. It was through the work of the prophets that God’s promise of a savior was never forgotten, and sustained their hope in times of crisis.

Finally, the promise of a savior was fulfilled when God sent His angel, Gabriel, to ask Mary to become the mother of his son (Luke 1:26-38). This young Jewish girl was overwhelmed at the request, but after assurance from the angel was open to the will of God and accepts. She was told that her son will be ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God among us.’ His birth in Bethlehem was the wonderful event we celebrate this day (Luke 2:1-14). The long wait for a savior was over and through his life, teachings, death and resurrection, the kingdom of God is proclaimed for all peoples.

Today, Christmas Day 2014, we celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ first coming. It is my wish and prayer that each of you as individuals and families will experience joy, peace and hope in abundance.


Father David O’Connor is pastor of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Catholic Church.